Sometimes the most beautiful places, are the places closest to home. Savannas Preserve State Park, established in 1978, stretches more than ten miles from Jensen Beach to Ft Pierce containing the “largest, most ecologically intact stretch of freshwater marsh in southeast Florida.”
Ed and I usually visit through the Jensen Beach Boulevard entrance, but recently we entered at Walton Road. The beauty was remarkable!
According to the state’s handout, it was Lt. Benjamin Pierce who first used the term “savannah” to describe a series of ponds and marshes and more that he came upon during the Second Seminole War (1835-1842).
If you live near the Treasure Coast, this 5,400 acres offers a valuable close to home experience. Ed and I were there before sunset and even on a cloudy day the lighting was awe inspiring. A wonderful afternoon! Thank you to those who had the foresight to preserve these lands between the St Lucie River and Indian River Lagoon.-Ed takes photos of many small and colorful wild flowers and native plants.-Hello armadillo!-My arms are not even the length of a brown pelican’s wing span!-Ed is shorter than a sandhill crane!-Now this is a great classroom!Savannas Preserve State Preserve Park, Florida Parks System.
I checked my handy note card: Category 1, 74-95 miles per hour; Category 2, 96-110 miles per hour. I recalled Francis and Jeanne and Wilma.
In spite of the news reports, Isaias did not speed up. The storm didn’t even come ashore. There was no rain.
Early this morning my husband, Ed, drank his coffee. Our eyes met. “I feel like we wasted the whole weekend,” he said.
“Wasted the whole weekend?” I inquired. “What would you prefer? Destruction?” Ed smirked.
It’s a weird feeling. The feeling that you’re going to get clobbered, preparing, and then it doesn’t happen at all. I recall Hurricane Dorian, September 1st of last year. I was convinced “this was it” – the end of all things material that I loved. I carried around a small box of my most dear possessions. Hurricane Dorian, a Category 5, hovered over and dismantled the Bahamas, but never arrived…
When Ed and I first moved into our home in Sewall’s Point, my neighbors told me they put hurricane shutters up on half the house every August. I thought they were being extremists. I rolled my eyes. Now, with so many fits and starts, I’ve begun to do the same.
Ed wanted to wait until September, but I thought, “you know, Isaias, this is an opportunity. An opportunity to plan, just in case Mother Nature isn’t crying wolf.“
So the bedroom is darker, and the living room needs lamps to read. But me? I feel ready. I feel prepared.
Earth Day 2020 will certainly go down in the history books. The worldwide outbreak of Covid-19 gives all of us a new lens to view the world, our fragile blue planet… Certainly everyone sees “change” differently. For those of us along the Treasure Coast, when we think of Earth Day we may think of water. Since 2013, thousands of us have come together amplifying a longstanding fight for clearer, cleaner water. We started a modern movement that caught traction, and indeed, changed the political landscape and perceptions of Floridians. We are making progress! But big change comes slowly, thus we must do all we can ourselves right now. It must start with “little things,” like with how we think about pollution; how we live; how we use, develop, and protect ours lands; how we manage our pesticide-fertilizer-water-hungry lawns, or get rid of them all-together; how we think about food, transportation, and most important, our expectations of large scale agricultural production. It’s overwhelming really. But it’s a must. Earth Day cannot just be a celebration, a recognition, it has to bring real change, right now.
2013, 2016, 2018 JTL/EL: St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon and Lake Okeechobee during multiple toxic algae crises, not long ago, a strong reminder of the need for continued change. We cannot ever again allow such polluted waters upon our Earth.
Historic 1909 Drainage Map- Kissimmee and Caloosahatchee Rivers, and Lake Okeechobee, Florida. Captain J.R. Slattery, Corps of Engineers U.S. Army.
This post is for the map lover!
Realtor, Stephen Dutcher, shared this 1909 U.S. Army Corps of Engineers War Department Map with my historian mother years ago. To see in all detail click again to enlarge image.
The patient viewer will be amazed at the simple black and white map’s level of detail.
You’ll see the documentation of the upper Kissimmee Chain of Lakes being drained and connected via canals, as was the condition of Lake Okeechobee west to the Caloosahatchee River. However, at this time, looking east, there was no connecting canal from Lake Okeechobee to the St Lucie River!
Reading between the lines, one notes words not of agriculture or development but of Nature: “Pine; marsh; prairie; pine slough; cane slough; cypress; ponds…” many colors, full of birds and wildlife!
~Studying near today’s Stuart, the discerning eye will see that the famous Allapattah Flats ran from the upper St Johns River basin near Ft. Pierce south many, many miles, all the way to the headwaters of the St Luice River! These clear waters flowed not into the Atlantic Ocean through the St Lucie Inlet as this sandbar was closed, but rather traveled north through St Lucie Sound (today’s Southern Indian River Lagoon) emptying at Ft. Pierce Inlet.
~The haunting names of the lakes reflect Indian wars of the past: Tohopekaligo, Kissimmee, Hicpochee, Hatcheneha, just to name a few. In neat, handwritten print, a chart at the bottom of the page juxtaposes the levels of the lakes, “Ordinary Low Water” to “Extremely High Water” revealing depths certainly not found today.
~Lake Okeechobee? 20.6 to 24.4 feet!
~And in closure, the eye sweeps south; an open Everglades lies unmapped. A mystery for another day…
So 110 years of “progress” has slipped by, the stately virgin pines have been harvested, the coastlines scraped and modernized, the marshes, lakes, and rivers drained, and the prairies converted to pasture and farmland, but looking at this map, we can dream. We can dream beyond black and white~of what our dear Florida looked like, before she was changed…
From the air, one really notices that Florida is like a lake filled sponge! This past weekend, Ed and I flew to Gainesville in Alachua County, and then to Titusville, in Brevard County. This time, I was looking at lakes more than rivers. From the air, Florida is a patchwork of ponds and lakes reflecting like mirrors in the sun, a strange and beautiful landscape, or shall I say “waterscape?”
During the flight, I started thinking that if water bodies could talk, it would be the lakes that would have the strongest lobby. According to a 2006 article by Sherry Boas of the Sun Sentinel, the state of Florida has over 30,000 lakes! Many like Lake Apopka, in Orange County, historically, were altered because shoreline wetlands supported successful agricultural endeavors, kind of a smaller version of Lake Okeechobee; and again, just like Lake Okeechobee, although a great industry arose, this led to the demise of the lake. But like the Indian River Lagoon, and Caloosahatchee, people rose up to “Save Lake Apopka” and continue to work on this today: Orlando Sentinel Article 2018, shared by Janet Alford: (https://www.clickorlando.com/water/how-lake-apopka-went-from-floridas-most-polluted-lake-to-the-promising)
Yes indeed, Florida appears to float like a sponge in a sea of water. How we could think that our agriculture fertilizers and human sewage issues would not catch up with us on a broader level was naive. Excessive nutrients coming from humans on land are polluting waterbodies throughout the state which in turn also drain to pollute more waterbodies. Whether it be ponds, lakes, estuaries, or the Everglades, we must wipe up our mess, clean out our sponge!
On January 10th, Florida’s Office of the Governor, under very newly elected Ron DeSantis, issued Executive Order 19-12. The title of this order is “Achieving More Now For Florida’s Environment.” It is a remarkable and voluminous piece.
Today, I am going to share it in full as you may have only heard about parts of it in the newspaper.
First, note the “Whereases…” giving background and laying foundation for the order.
Whereas, water and natural resources are the foundation of Florida’s communities, economy and way of life; and
Whereas, protection of water resources is one of the most critical issues facing our state and requires immediate action; and
Whereas, recent algae blooms have resulted in an increasing threat to our environment and fragile ecosystems, including our rivers, beaches, and wildlife, as well as causing the issuance of health advisories, closures of recreational areas and economy losses in adjacent communities; and
Whereas, as the Governor of the State of Florida, a primary mission of my tenure is to follow in words of President Theodore Roosevelt by having Florida treat its “natural resources as assets which it must turn over to the next generation increased, and not impaired, in value”;
Now, Therefore, I Ron DeSantis, as Governor of Florida, by virtue of the authority vested in me by Article IV, Section (1) (a) of the Florida Constitution, and all other applicable laws, do hereby issue the following Executive Order, to take immediate effect:
The order is five pages long, with three sections:
Section 1: Focus on Rapid Improvement of Water Quality, Quality, and Supply (A-O) 15 parts directed to the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP); the Department of Health; Visit Florida; and the Department of Economic Opportunity.
Section 2: Restructuring, to Focus on Accountability, Transparently, and Science to Achieve More Now for Florida’s Environment (A-C) 3 parts directed only to the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP)
Section 3: Ensure Florida’s Valuable and Vulnerable Coastlines and Natural Resources are Protected (A-B) 2 parts, again, directed only to the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP)
There are a total of 20 parts to the executive order. Note state’s organizational chart: DEP’s place is as an executive agency under the governor, Executive Branch. Water Management Districts are under the governor but fall in the “local government” section as the Water Management Districts have the power to levy taxes within their districts, but are appointed by the Governor.
Please peruse entire executive order below. Read at least first line or underlined and know that it is not one, but all of these “declarations within the declaration” that will empower government structure, if steered by true captains, to abate water woes for all Springs, Estuaries, Rivers, Lakes, and the Everglades of Florida. Thank you Governor DeSantis for this map!
Yesterday, I called in for the final conference call of Governor-elect Ron DeSantis’ Transition Advisory Committee on the Environment, chaired by our own, Congressman Brian Mast. It was very, very interesting. Highlights of the call were recorded by TC Palm’s Ali Schmitz:
As a member of the public, I was able to listen-in on the call ~this one focusing on Agriculture, and make my recommendation.
Having served on the Constitution Revision Commission in 2018, I am especially drawn to the importance of government structure. DeSantis’ originally posted environmental policy statement listed Accountability for Water Quality. Right now, many Floridians wonder “who is charge,” who answers for our present lack of water quality? Some even think, understandably so, that it is the Army Corp of Engineers. It is not. Under the law, the state of Florida is responsible for water quality, but with “three cooks in the kitchen,” (DEP, Water Management Districts, and Dept of Agriculture) this is difficult. So with my time on the call, I asked for centralization of enforcement of water quality standards and a strong Lead Agency:
CENTRALIZE THE ENFORCEMENT OF WATER QUALITY STANDARDS. A Majority of water quality regulation is currently housed at the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). However, certain water quality standards and monitoring reside within the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (DACS) which is overseen by the Commission of Agriculture. DeSantis will work with the Florida legislature to move all components of water quality regulation within the Executive Branch to DEP. This will increase uniformity and ensure that the Secretary of DEP, who is accountable to the Governor, has the tools necessary to meet the water quality standards that Floridians deserve. ~DeSantis for Governor website Sept. 2018.
As we all know, the inauguration is January 8th, 2019. Very exciting! Congratulations Governor DeSantis! And awesome that Congressman Mast is by your side!!
Before we get too excited, let’s not forget…
Today, I will post the website of Governor-Elect Ron DeSantis on the environment so we can remember what was promised and hold the governor and all members of the Transition Advisory Committee on the Environment accountable for next four years. Looking forward to a governor who will protect the environment on day one!
Recently, the Florida House of Representatives announced its committee appointments made by new House Speaker Jose Oliva. Today, I will note those appointed to environmental committees which, of course, function in the dark ages, bound together with agriculture. Advocates should know these key players and build relationships now, and during the committee process that beings January 8, 2019 ~not once Legislative Session begins in March. Too late!
So here we go…
The really all-powerful Speaker of the House is Jose Oliva who will reign from the end of 2018 to 2020. He is from Miami Lakes and is C.E.O. of Oliva Cigar Co. Read about him below and the committees and representatives over which he has great influence. Congratulations to him on attaining this leadership role that very few achieve.
Speaker Oliva’s environmental appointments are below with an article or two giving background on each appointee. Agriculture and Natural Resources Appropriations Subcommittee Chair, Rep. Holly Raschein is from Key Largo and a Health Care Special Projects Manager. Vice-chair, Rep. Rick Roth is from West Palm Beach and his heritage is linked to a multi-generational family-farm in the Everglades Agricultural Area. Holly has a track record supporting environmental issues such as the EAA Reservoir and Rick works for the environment within the goals of the EAA Environmental Protection District and the 1994 Everglades Forever Act. Read below about both representatives and what they have to say.
Interestingly, Holly Raschein also serves on the Subcommittee for Agriculture as and Natural Resources as vice-chair to, chair, Chuck Wesley, a College Administrator from Newberry (near Gainesville). Rep Wesley notes that “sustainable agriculture and the environment are some of his top goals.” You can read what he wrote in an op-ed for below. All this sounds good. But what does that really mean? Our job is to hold all of these politicians accountable.
Yes, it is important we know and communicate with who is in charge. I hope you will reach out to all of them through letter best, but email, or phone call helps too. I wish all my readers a Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays! Thank you for reading my blog in 2019. I’m looking forward to seeing what 2019 will bring…
For more information on Florida House of Representatives go here https://www.myfloridahouse.gov. Look at their calendar, see when committees meet, follow what they are reviewing and call, write their office to let them know how much you love Florida and that water is key!
Sometimes the history of the Everglades is really confusing. Why, with all of the environmental advocacy, since the 1970s, does the health of our environment remain crippled? One way to simplify it is to think in terms of before and after the 1947 U.S. Central and South Florida Plan. Of course there is extensive history before 1947, but it was after 1947 that things in South Florida’s water world became culturalized, compartmentalized, and legally defined. Before we talk about this 1947 Central and South Florida Plan, let’s review some important highlights pre-1947.
1. Hamilton Disston begins the drainage of Lake Okeechobee (1881)
2. Governor Napoleon Broward hires U.S.D.A. scientist James Wright who determines that “eight canals would indeed drain 1,850,000 acres of swampland” (1904)
3. The U.S. Congress’ Rivers and Harbors Act includes significant funds to deepen the manmade Hamilton Disston connection of the Calooshahatchee River to Lake Okeechobee (ca.1910)
4. The scandal of James Wright (from #2 above) who was deemed “a fraud” for the failure of the land to drain as expected ~causing the slump in swampy real estate sales (1914)
5. The resurgence of confidence in sales and a 1920s real estate boom fueled by advances in soil science, and the success of agricultural start-ups located in Moore Haven, Belle Glade, and Clewiston south of Lake Okeechobee
6. Land in a defined “Everglades Drainage District” more fully being systematically cut into sections for development with canals draining agricultural fertilizers and other chemicals into the waters of the state (1924)
6. Two very powerful hurricanes causing thousands of deaths and the destruction of property, and thus the state’s “call for a higher dike” (1926 and 1928)
7. The state’s reaction to the hurricanes, the 1929 establishment of the “Okeechobee Flood Control District” for the “Everglades Drainage District” as well as the Federal Government’s Army Corp of Engineers taking over “field operations”around Lake Okeechobee ~including the building of a thirty-five foot earthen dike and ingeniously using navigation funding to build the cross-state-canal, connecting the Caloosahatchee and the St Lucie Estuaries to Lake Okeechobee ~conveniently working as discharge-escapes through those estuaries when “necessary”
So, as we can see, a lot happened pre-1947, but it was what happened after, were things really changed…
In 1947 it rained and rained, and there were two hurricanes. From Orlando to Florida Bay the agricultural and developed lands, that had been built in drained, once marshy, swampy areas, really flooded, and in some places a foot of water sat for months. There was great economic loss.
The crying cow booklet, above, was sent to every member of the U.S. Congress.
To fight Florida’s destructive “flood waters” the 1948 U.S. Congress adopted legislation for the CENTRAL AND SOUTH FLORIDA PROJECT, a twenty year flood plan from Orlando to Florida Bay that included the formal creation and protection of the Everglades Agricultural Area south of Lake O, the Water Conservation Areas, intertwined with thousands of miles of canals and structures to control the once headwaters and River of Grass. HOUSE DOCUMENT 643 – 80TH CONGRESS (00570762xBA9D6)
Next, mirroring the same terminology the United States Government had used (the Central and South Florid Project) the state of Florida created the “Central and South Florida Flood Control District” to manage that CENTRAL and SOUTH FLORIDA PROJECT. A bit confusing huh? A tongue twister. And in a way one could say, at that time, the Central and South Florida Project and the Central and South Florida Flood Control District “became one.” The overall goal above all other things was flood control. And this marriage of the Central and South Florida Project and the Central and South Florida Flood Control District was successful at controlling the waters, but it also killed the natural environment, thus Florida herself.
This embedded cultural philosophy of “flood control only” was challenged in 1972 with the birth of the national environmental movement, and a consciousness that the natural system that supported Florida’s tourism, quality of life, agriculture, not to mention valuable wildlife, was in tremendous decline.
As we know from watching Treasure Coast politician, Joe Negron, being President of the Senate of is a very powerful position, and allows one to direct Florida political policy. West coast Manatee/Hillsborough county’s Bill Galvano follows Joe Negron, and for the next two years will be Florida’s Senate President.
As we navigate our toxic and waters, it is important we get to know Bill Galvano. ~Read his bio. Learn where he is from. Be familiar with his background and former committees. And most important of all, try to determine what motivates him and pay attention to the dreams of his presidency.
The best way to get this information first hand is to listen to the new president’s induction speech. Thankfully this is recorded by the Florida Channel for those who did not attend. Here is a link; go to about 40:00 to hear President Galvano’s speech.
The Miami Herald used this quote to sum up Bill Galvano:
“As Senate president, I have very little ability to change the national discourse, or to stem the tide of modern-day incivility that is so pervasive in an era of social media and 24-hour news cycle,” he said, “But I can tell you as Senate president, and while I’m Senate president, that the Florida Senate will have civility, transparency, candor, and provide opportunity.”
Well as water advocates, it’s our opportunity and responsibility to influence President Galvano by visiting, calling, writing his office, getting to know his staff, and relaying the concerns we have about our natural environment that is quickly going to hell in a hand basket!
Also, I must note, that I just happen to know that new Treasure Coast Senator Gayle Harrell has a good relationship with President Galvano because I saw that she was walking him around at her election night party. (Harrell: http://www.flsenate.gov/Senators/s25?pref=full)
Use everything you can to communicate now before legislative session begins and it’s too late!
Knowing who has been assigned what committees is important. Let’s learn about a couple of “water-senators ” ~those assigned to committees where water will come up. No pun intended.
First, let’s go to the Florida Senate website and click on the Committees Tab. Look around. What titles have something to do with water or the environment? Here you will see a list of committees. Very interesting! Only a few could apply.
For sure, when it comes to purposes of water, under Standing Committees,Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture, Environment, and General Government is key.
Who got this position? Wow! Senator Debbie Mayfield has been assigned to be the chair of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture, Environment, and General Government. She represents Indian River and Brevard Counties and in earlier years served in the Florida House of Representatives so she knows about all the toxic “Lost Summers,” and the troublesome “brown tide” that affects her area.(https://www.floridatoday.com/story/news/local/environment/lagoon/2018/03/02/again-killer-brown-algae-responsible-2016-mass-fish-deaths-blooming/381630002/)
When you click on her name you will also see she serves on the Environment and Natural Resources Committee and the Appropriations Committee. Senator Mayfield is very well versed in water issues not only because she is our Indian River lagoon neighbor, but because as she was an ally of former Senate President Joe Negron in 2018.
Now, take the time now to click on these links below and see if you happen to know any of the other senators serving on either the Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture, Environment, and General Government or the Natural Resources Committee or anything else relevant, perhaps Tourism where water really belongs. Take note of these senators. Do you know anyone who may know them? A friend across the state?
There are other important positions, but these two featured Senators that have a track record. These are two you can reach out to now, along with your legislative delegation.
Yes! Start building relationships NOW.
If you can’ reach the legislator him or herself, call, write or go to their office and build a relationship with their staff. Like any relationship this takes time, effort, finesse, and multiple visits. Ask for a meeting just to talk about what is important to you as a citizen, no matter your political affiliation. All Florida politicians represent all Floridians.
Here are some tips about Effective Communication and a visual from last year to refresh our memories about how an idea becomes a law.
Advocate for water now! Once legislative session begins, it’s too late!
I remember the first time, I realized that I had chance to speak before the entire legislative delegation of Martin County. The year was 2008, and I was new commissioner on the Sewall’s Point Commission.
To be honest, at the time, I asked myself “what is and who makes up a Legislative Delegation?”
A “legislative delegation” is made up of the both the Senator and House of Representative members from a particular district. For instance, in 2019, in Martin County, our Senator is Gayle Harrell, who ran and won the seat of influential and retiring Senate President, Joe Negron. And we have two House of Representative reps, Toby Overdorf, who won the termed-out seat of Gayle Harrell; and Mary Lynn Magar, who won her seat again, and is now second in-line of leadership, as House Speaker pro tempore, a great honor.
For Martin County, it is Representative MaryLnn Magar’s office that is organizing the 2019 Martin County Delegation Meeting.
For those of you reading this blog that do not live in Martin County, your specific representatives will organize your delegation meeting and in most instances there will be overlaps to bordering counties. The maps below give one an idea. You can learn more by the links below about your representatives for both the House and the Senate.
Most Delegation Meetings require a request form for organization and participation. Call a representative from your area for details if you don’t see your meeting advertised on line.
The Martin County Delegation will meet on January 15, 2019.
A Legislative Delegation Meeting is the best time to communicate with one’s local delegation because once they are through with committee meetings (happening now or soon), and once they are into the the legislative session itself coming up in March, it is much harder to have one’s voice heard ~ as during Legislative Session, everyone is screaming at them at once.
Speak up for the St Lucie! Speak up for the Caloosahatechee! ! Speak up for Florida Bay! Speak up for our Rivers! Speak up for Florida’s Environment! ! Speak up for the Future!
~Republican, Democrat, No Party Affiliation, Everyone!
Most important, be part of the political process of this state we all love.
For me, the best thing about Election Day 2018 was the passage of Constitutional Amendment 9. But that will not be the end of it. Now it is the job of the state legislature to implement the amendment and for us to keep watch that they do.
What does that mean?
Basically, this means that the language that makes up the ballot amendment must be put into the Florida Constitution and “implemented,” or fulfilled. To be “implemented” the ballot language that composes the amendment must be inserted and followed.
Amendment 9 was made up of two parts. During the Constitution Revision Commission process, I had sponsored Proposal #91 Prohibiting Offshore Oil and Gas Drilling, and Commissioner Lisa Carlton had sponsored Proposal #65 Prohibits Vaping in Enclosed Indoors Workplaces. These two proposals made it through the arduous CRC committee process and then were “bundled” by the CRC Style and Drafting Committee relating as “Clean Air and Clean Water.” Thus on the ballot, married, what were P#91 and P#65 composed a new whole: Amendment 9 ~ Prohibiting Offshore Oil and Gas Drilling; Prohibits Vaping in Enclosed Indoors Workplaces.
As everyone who followed the election knows, the #RoadToTheBallot wasn’t easy, and Amendment 9 was criticized unmercifully by the press, and even went before the Florida Supreme Court. In the end, the court supported the bundling and the people of Florida did too. The voters read, studied, and decided for themselves, Clean Air and Clean Water in Florida is very, very important. The required 60% passage was exceeded; the amendment passed by 68.92%!
The people have spoken and now the state Legislature must do its work and implement the amendment by placing the ballot language into the Florida Constitution. See the language that comes off the Florida Division of Elections website below.
There have been times in the past, as with Amendment 1 2014, Florida’s Water and Land Conservation Initiative, where the state legislature did not follow the intent of the language once it was in the constitution. They interpreted it rather to benefit the state power structure. Some say this is partially because the language was vague and a court case was brought to try to clear up the amendment’s interpretation by the state legislature.
Thankfully, the language of both P#91 Prohibiting Offshore Oil and Gas Drilling and #65 Prohibits Vaping in Enclosed Indoors Workplaces are legally solid, specific, and should not leave any cracks open to be perverted by the state legislature. Nonetheless, we must keep a very watchful eye, as when it comes to Florida’s Legislature there is always the chance for corruption…
Read this article below to see why….
What do they say? “Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely….” And who is the most powerful of all? The State Legislature!
New push for offshore drilling as Florida awaits recount results
“Florida’s Summer of Slime: Stuart and Lake Okeechobee,” photo essay by John Moran, August 2018
I reported last month on the plight of the Caloosahatchee River and its befouled waters flowing from Lake Okeechobee; delivering slime to waterfront neighborhoods in Fort Myers and Cape Coral along the way to the Gulf Islands of Southwest Florida.
Next up on our Summer of Slime photo tour is a visit to Stuart and Lake O…Stuart and environs is a glistening jewel born of water. It may well top the list of Florida cities in shoreline per capita. There’s simply water everywhere. Two forks of the St. Lucie River, the Indian River Lagoon, canals and peninsulas and islands, and the Atlantic Ocean beyond. Stuart is pictured above; below is neighboring Hutchinson Island.
But it wasn’t Stuart’s reputation for abundant clean water that drew me south from Gainesville with my cameras. In effect, I’ve become a traveling crime scene photographer—and slime is the crime. A devastating outbreak of toxic algae has once again hit the St. Lucie River and the Treasure Coast, fueled by the polluted waters of Lake Okeechobee and the Kissimmee River basin to the north. Damaging headlines trumpet the story to the nation and the world and Governor Scott has declared a state of emergency. It’s déjà vu all over again.
My hosts in Stuart were water blogger Jacqui Thurlow-Lippisch and her husband, Ed Lippisch.
Ed took me up for a photo flight in his Piper Cub so I could get the big picture.
Seen from a small plane at 500 feet, Florida is a beautiful place.
Here’s Lake Okeechobee and the western terminus of the St. Lucie C-44 Canal. Administered by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Port Mayaca Lock and Dam has the capacity to discharge 14,800 cubic feet of water per second downstream to Stuart and the St. Lucie River Estuary, 26 miles away.
Sugar industry representatives say the water coming out of Lake Okeechobee is not the problem and that the algae outbreak in Stuart is primarily caused by Stuart’s own septic tanks and urban stormwater. This claim is contradicted by the extensive algae mats seen along the C-44 Canal between the Port Mayaca and St. Lucie Locks, well upstream from Stuart.
Lake Okeechobee historically drained south to Florida Bay, not east and west to the Atlantic and Gulf. The C-44 canal was built in 1916 to divert floodwaters to the coast.
A view of the St. Lucie Lock and Dam, several miles southwest of Stuart. On the day of my photo flight in late July, the dam gates were closed, visibly holding back algae from flowing downstream. Look closely and you can see what some people call The Seven Gates of Hell.
The St. Lucie Lock and Dam are an integral part of South Florida’s complex web of water management structures, born of an age when the Everglades was reviled as a watery wasteland and America was driven to drain it.
Below the St. Lucie Lock and Dam, in Palm City and Stuart, you can still find waterfront homes untouched by the algae bloom. But that’s no consolation for the thousands of Martin County residents whose lives are in upheaval once again this summer. The familiar pattern of algae outbreaks is fueled by fertilizer, manure and urban sources of nutrient pollution, including septic tanks.
All of this is compounded by denial and neglect by elected officials and agencies to whom we entrust the important work of environmental protection and public health.
Jacqui Thurlow-Lippisch took me on a driving tour of the C-44 Canal from Stuart to enormous Lake O, which is more like a stormwater treatment pond than a biologically healthy lake. “There are toxic algae blooms across the globe, but only one place where the government dumps it on you: Florida,” she says.
It’s not just the algae from Lake Okeechobee causing headaches along Florida’s east coast; the sheer volume of freshwater discharges is an environmental pollutant that overwhelms the estuary.
The Lake O gunk visible in the satellite view, above, is shown in the detail photo below.
Fishermen are still drawn to Port Mayaca. On the day we visited, I counted nine.
Dinner in hand (speckled perch), Felix Gui, Jr. has been fishing Lake O for 30 years. “The algae doesn’t affect the fish,” he says. “They eat the same, algae or no algae, and I haven’t gotten sick.” Experts have warned against eating fish exposed to the algae.
A Martin County Health Department sign at Port Mayaca warns against contact with the water but I saw no messaging about whether fish caught in these waters is safe to eat.
Enroute home to Stuart, Jacqui and I stopped at deserted Timer Powers Park on the St. Lucie Canal in Indiantown.
At the St. Lucie Lock, a surreal scene of impaired water, above, and a vortex of slime, below, waiting to be flushed downstream.
A pair of jet-skiers signaled for the lock to be opened, and another pulse of algae-laden water is released towards Stuart and the coast.
Wouldn’t want to anyway, thanks.
Further downstream, the algae spreads…
Nearing the coast, Rio Nature Park and the neighboring Central Marine in Stuart are slimed again. This was the epicenter of the infamous Treasure Coast algae outbreak of 2016.
Reporter Tyler Treadway of TCPalm gathered a sample of the polluted water from a canal behind the offices of Florida Sportsman magazine in Stuart.
Staff complaints of headaches, nausea and dizziness prompted Florida Sportsman publisher Blair Wickstrom to temporarily close the office in late July. “It smells like death,” he said.
The Shepard Park boat ramp parking lot in Stuart was nearly empty on the day we visited.
A man on a mission, Mike Knepper, above and below, posts videos on his Youtube channel documenting the degradation of natural Florida.
“It’s totally unacceptable to me what we’re doing to this planet because we’re very rapidly destroying it,” Knepper says. “My children and grandchildren will be paying the price for all the bad decisions we’re making today. I want to be able to look them in the face and say, ‘I tried to make a difference.’”
Dead-end canals along the St. Lucie River with their limited water exchange have been hardest hit by the toxic blue-green algae, which scientists refer to as cyanobacteria.
A growing body of medical research links exposure to cyanobacteria with neurodegenerative diseases including Parkinson’s, ALS and Alzheimer’s. Google it.
Meanwhile, we’re getting conflicting messages from officialdom. Martin County has erected signs warning against contact with the water but the Florida Dept. of Health website, under the heading How to Keep Your Family Safe While Enjoying Florida’s Water Ways, has this to say: “Cyanobacteria/ blue-green algae…are naturally occurring in Florida’s environment and are also found all over the world. They are part of a healthy ecosystem and help support a wide variety of aquatic life.” (http://www.floridahealth.gov/environmental-health/aquatic-toxins/cyanobacteria.html) In other words, Lighten up, Florida. This is just nature being natural.
An open question remains: What will become of the value of the Florida brand when the world fully sees what we have done to our waters?
Even in disaster, strange beauty emerges.
Greg Fedele has lived in his water-front home since 1991. He grieves for his loss. “I have three kids who can’t enjoy the waterways of Martin County like I did growing up.”
The sign at Ocean Blue Yacht Sales in Stuart echoes a wide swath of community sentiment. Asked to describe in a word how the algae outbreak has impacted his business, president Bryan Boyd replied, “Horrible. The last three years, our bay boat sales have been a third of what they used to be.”
A roadside sign seen in Stuart in late July. If you’re wondering what you can do about the ongoing crisis of Florida waters, we are called to consider our own water footprint, learn about the issues and get involved. And never forget that elections have consequences. Vote for Clean Water. (https://www.bullsugar.org/#)
What we have here in Florida is not just a crisis of water, we have a crisis of democracy and civic engagement.
From the beleaguered springs of North Florida to the sickened rivers and coasts of South Florida, we must understand that no savior is waiting on the horizon who will fix this thing for us.
It took a group effort to create this mess and we need all hands on deck if are to reclaim our waters. Florida needs environmental patriots willing to face down politicians funded by wealthy interests who think nothing of sacrificing our public waters on the altar of their private profits.
We don’t have the luxury of time to get this right. We are losing our waters now. This is our moment. It’s time to set aside our differences and focus on what is at stake, for this is nothing less than a battle for the soul of Florida.
The pictures don’t lie. We the people of Florida bear witness today to nothing less than a crime against nature, and a crime against the children who shall inherit our natural legacy.
A long time ago, Florida political leaders—Republicans and Democrats in common cause—understood there can be no healthy economy without a healthy environment. They wisely enacted laws and regulatory safeguards accordingly.
But that was then and this is now. It’s time to end the popular fiction in Florida that we can plunder and pollute our way to prosperity.
Gov. Reubin Askew said it best when he declared in 1971, “Ecological destruction is nothing less than economic suicide.”
Just last weekend, I presented at the “Future of Florida Summit” at the University of Florida’s Graham Center. Eric Eikenberg, CEO of the Everglades Foundation, gave a passionate speech to hundreds of young people during the lunchtime session. My husband, Ed, usually quiet, turned to me saying: ” He is a really good speaker.”
The crowd listened…
Mr Eikenberg noted that he was a graduate of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Broward County, Florida and that even though the school was literally built in what was once the Everglades, there had not been studies on that subject while he attended the school. He talked about the importance of our state waters and the need to involve youth in the education of our natural world, especially here in South Florida.
Ironically, four days later, the horrific shooting at Mr Eikenberg’s alma mater, has called attention, once again, to the shortcomings, and cultural sickness in our society.
In 1991, the “Marjory Stoneman Douglas Everglades Protection Act” was enacted by the Florida Legislature becoming the precursor to the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP). Douglas ended up asking for her name to be removed from the legislation. At the time, she was 103 years old. After fighting for the Everglades for a lifetime, she said she felt the legislation was too favorable to the Sugar Farmers. “Growers should clean up the water on their own land…” meaning the state and federal government shouldn’t be building Storm Water Treatment Areas with taxpayer dollars to do it for them….
In time, Ms Douglas’ name was removed.
I wonder if she were alive today, if she would want her name removed from the school? I doubt it. She may have been tough on those destroying the Everglades, but she had a soft heart for youth. Lore states that when she was starting her famed organization Friends for the Everglades she refused to have the membership fee too high for students to be able to join, as she knew they were the most internal of keys.
My greatest sorrow and prayers for the families of the dead.
May the blood of the slain remind us to stop looking at our phones, and to turn to nature and Nature’s God for insight and inspiration in this crazy and destructive human-made world.
Early in 2017, the work of the Constitution Revision Commission began. There were multiple public hearings around the state and thousands of public proposals were submitted for consideration. Out of the two thousand or so proposals, 103 of these were chosen by commissioners to be sponsored, or considered. 37 made it through the arduous committee process. Here is a list of those 37: http://flcrc.gov/PublishedContent/ADMINISTRATIVEPUBLICATIONS/CRCActiveProposalsHearings2018.pdf
Mind you, this list is difficult to interpret unless you go to the CRC website, hit the “Proposals” tab and put in the number of the proposal to read the text along with the details. This takes a lot of work. http://flcrc.gov
In the end, only a few of these 37 will be placed on the ballot for voter consideration. The full CRC will determine this after the second round of public hearings that is happening now.
As far as my proposals. I had 5 environmental proposals: #23 A Right to a Clean and Healthful Environment; #24 Commissioner of Environmental Protection; #46 Clarifying Amendment 1, Land Acquisition Trust Fund; #48 FWC/Wildlife Corridors; and #91 No Oil and Gas Drilling in Floirda’s Territorial Seas.
One proposal made it through committee out of five. P91 or “No Oil and Gas Drilling in Florida’s Territorial Seas” I am thankful, and cannot look back, or mope over what did not get through; I must now turn all of my energy to this one proposal. And a remarkable proposal it is! I hope you will support it too, even if you had your hopes up for one of the others, as P91 is the sole environmental proposal of the 37, and a monumental opportunity.
This proposal would protect our territorial seas, our state waters, the waters under our jurisdiction. These waters have been drilled before and, hands down, if the oil and gas industry can, they will influence our state legislature so that they can drill our coastal waters again. There is no doubt about it. Just study history!
If this proposal makes it to the ballot it will be absolutely historic. Don’t think about the politics, think about the legacy. We would be the only state in the nation to have this in our state constitution. This would sound a loud environmental message, forever…
We all know, drilling so close to shore, as is done in other coastal southern states, would be visually, environmentally, and economically destructive to Florida’s unique/peninsular marine, wildlife, real estate, and tourism resources.
It is written in Article II of our state constitutional that “we shall protect our natural resources and scenic beauty.” P91 belongs in Florida’s Constitution. It would be an enormous statement on behalf of the people of Florida and would have major policy implications on many, many levels.
Thank you for following the CRC process and I will keep you appraised of P91 as the CRC process continues and we move towards what gets on the ballot for 2018.
Part #2 in a series about the Constitution Revision Commission (CRC) and how to get involved, Jacqui Thurlow-Lippisch, 8-21-17
How Do I Submit My Idea For a Constitutional Amendment to Florida’s CRC?
The Florida Constitution belongs to the people of Florida and is the foundational document of our state government. In that same spirit, I am issuing an open invitation to all interested Floridians to get involved in the Constitution Revision Commission (CRC). Don’t be afraid! The CRC is for you, the public.
Although the words “Constitution Revision Commission” may sound intimidating, the process is not. Getting involved is easy, and you have many options to share your comments, ideas, and proposals with the CRC.
As commissioners, our job is to examine the Florida Constitution and propose changes for voter consideration on Florida’s 2018 General Election ballot. During this process, we consider proposed constitutional changes submitted by Floridians.
*PUBLIC PROPOSAL FILING DEADLINE (SEPTEMBER 22): The CRC is considering September 22 as the deadline to submit public proposals. Many have already been submitted. We encourage all interested Floridians to submit their proposals as soon as possible!
The commission wants to hear about issues that matter most to Floridians, and there are steps you can take to ensure you submit a compelling proposal that best articulates your position. When creating a proposed change or idea for the Florida Constitution, I suggest you conduct personal research and follow these six (6) steps and see links below:
1. Decide if there are issues that you think the state legislature is ignoring or not putting enough emphasis upon – something so important that it would need to be in our state constitution versus other areas of state or local law.
2. Review Florida’s state constitution. It consists of 12 articles and is available online at flcrc.gov/Constitution. After reviewing, decide which section of the state constitution is most relevant to your specific issue.
3. Review concise and clear writing procedures, such as “The Elements of Style” by William Strunk. There are also many free resources available online.
4. Go to flcrc.gov/Proposals/Submit to create a free account and submit your proposed change to the Florida Constitution. The online tool allows you to create your proposal using legal language by redacting or adding language. Remember to keep it simple and clear.
5. Using the same program, submit your proposal to the CRC and sign up for the alert emails. Commissioners will review proposals and determine which proposals should be considered to be placed on Florida’s 2018 General Election ballot.
6. You can advocate for your proposals by contacting CRC Commissioners directly via email or phone (flcrc.gov/Commissioners). Better yet, attend a public hearing if one is scheduled in your area at a future date (flcrc.gov/Meetings/PublicHearings).
Remember, the CRC wants your involvement and the process is meant for you! If you do not want to use the online submission tool you can also email the CRC at email@example.com or send us your proposal in the mail at the following address:
Constitution Revision Commission
400 S. Monroe St.
Tallahassee, FL 32399
Thank you for getting involved and for caring about the great state of Florida!